WILMINGTON — It’s been thirteen years since Allison Jackson Foy disappeared, eleven years since her body was found, and seven months since former suspect Timothy Iannone was released from prison.
For Lisa Valentino, Foy’s sister, it has been a constant battle. Valentino fought to get police – who initially thought Foy had dropped out of contact due to drugs – to take her case seriously after Foy went missing on July 30, 2006. Then, in April of 2008, Foy’s remains were found, along with the remains of Angela Nobles Rothen. Foy had been stabbed numerous times; Rothen had broken bones in her face and skull but the apparent cause of death was a knife wound to the neck.
The Wilmington Police Department (WPD) built a case against one main suspect, Timothy Craig Iannone: Iannone frequented the Junction Pub and Billiards bar where Foy was last seen, and matched the description of the cab driver who was seen picking Foy up. Iannone was also accused of raping and assaulting a prostitute. The alleged incident took place just 100 yards from where the remains of Foy and Rothen were found. Iannone acknowledged hiring the prostitute but denied any other crime; he also explicitly denied any involvement in Foy or Rothen’s death.
Valentino said that, despite initial differences, WPD detectives and Chief Ralph Evangelous became very supportive of her and her family. But, while Iannone was arrested for a number of other incidents, murder charges were never brought against him.
According to Valentino, District Attorney Ben David promised her and her father that he would convene a grand jury, but it never happened; Valentino said David now denies ever making any such promise.
“That’s what he said to me – he said, be patient, give us time, let us work the case and if you’re not happy with the results we’ll convene a grand jury,” Valentino said. “Unfortunately, the only two people in that room with [David] were me and my father, and my father has passed.”
Over the years, Valentino became an active part of the missing persons community, and continued pushing to find breaks in her sister’s case. Last year, she worked with WPD to adopt new technology for acquiring DNA samples, allowing detectives to re-investigate cold cases. Unfortunately, it turned up nothing new in the Foy or Rothen cases, but Valentino remains optimistic that it will help other families have suffered the double trauma that her own has: first, the lost of a loved one, second, the lack of closure.
In July of 2016, ten years after Foy disappeared, a new witness came forward. Although WPD was apparently able to verify much of the witness’s testimony, it still wasn’t enough for the DA’s office to bring charges. But Valentino believes if there was one witness, there are more.
“People say, it’s 13 years later, why are you still at it. But I can’t stop, there’s an unresolved piece in my heart, my sister deserves justice, her children deserve justice. I made a promise to my father — and we need that. We need that final piece,” Valentino said.
Witnesses out there?
Iannone eventually went to prison on unrelated charges and was released on Christmas Day, last year. Valentino still believes there is enough evidence to put him on trial.
“I don’t think in any way we should send the wrong person to prison, I don’t,” Valentino said. “But I believe there’s a case. It should go to a jury.”
Valentino said she thinks the only way that will happen is if more witnesses come forward.
She points to the case of Sonia Williams, who accused Iannone of assault in 2007. Iannone was arrested, but Williams didn’t turn up to testify. Valentino also wonders if a 2011 incident, in which Iannone was arrested at Wrightsville Beach, might mean there were other events – and other witnesses.
“There are people in the community who know more of what happened. I think there are those in the community who – this happened to – and maybe they were scared to come forward. And now, 13 years later, we’re basically asking anyone who has a story to tell or maybe had some kind of encounter with Iannone to come forward. They can come forward anonymously — but I think that’s how we’re going to be able to get an arrest. That’s how we’re going to be able to bring it to court,” Valentino said.
In 2007, Williams was addicted to drugs and working as a prostitute; she claims that Iannone picked her up on August 25 and alleges that Iannone forced her to perform oral sex on him at knifepoint, later binding her with duct tape and beating her violently. Williams said she was able to escape and went to the police. Iannone was arrested shortly afterward.
The case went to court in November of 2007 but Williams didn’t show up as a witness; Iannone pleaded guilty to ‘crimes against nature,’ the North Carolina criminal offense that includes having oral sex. He was sentenced to probation (although he later served time for a probation violation).
Iannone admitted picking up Williams, but denied raping or assaulting her; in 2009, he appeared on Dateline and told interviewer Josh Mankiewicz that he had only pulled Williams’ hair to keep her from running after she stole money from him (Williams denied any theft).
Iannone also refuted the claims by other Wilmington-area women who claimed Iannone had picked them up as prostitutes and assaulted them; on Dateline, Iannone said Williams was the only prostitute he had ever picked up. His wife, Susan, appeared with him, serving as his alibi; she admitted her husband had lied to her about issues in the past, but questioned the validity of statements made by prostitutes.
The scene of the alleged assault on Williams was around 100 yards from the scene where, in April 2008, law enforcement would locate the remains of Foy and Rothen.
“I absolutely believe that there are people involved in this case who have, from the beginning, withheld stuff and have not told all that they know. Whether’s it because they are fearful … my sister’s life was taken and her body was discarded like trash in a wooded area. And a year later, in the same place, Angela Rothen’s life was taken and she was discarded there too. It definitely does seem like a pattern,” Valentino said.
2011 Wrightsville Beach incident
On March 13, 2011, Iannone was stopped on the south end of Wrightsville Beach around 5:30 a.m. (about an hour before sunrise). Iannone was carrying a bb-gun, condoms, and sexual lubricant in a plastic bag.
Iannone was arrested for suspicious activity and carrying a concealed weapon (two years earlier, in April 2009, he had also been arrested for possession of a firearm by a felon). According to WBPD Captain Jason Bishop the case is still technically open, although “it’s not being actively investigated.”
“It is my understanding that a BB gun could be considered a firearm in cases such as robbery with a dangerous weapon or armed robbery or an assault. But even in these cases it would have to be argued and decided in court. In the Iannone case, it was a CO2 powered BB gun that did not have a CO2 cartridge and he did not display or assault anyone with it,” Bishop added.
It’s not clear what Iannone was doing on the pre-dawn beach, although Bishop said he recalled that the arresting officer contacted WPD to discuss the incident with them.
Unlike Iannone’s other arrests, the Wrightsville Beach incident apparently never garnered media coverage. Since finding out about the incident, Valentino wonders if there were other incidents — and perhaps other witnesses.
Still an open investigation, still hoping
The investigation into Allison Jackson Foy’s murder is still open and, despite the lack of new evidence, Chief Evangelous noted detectives were still assigned to the case and expressed gratitude for the efforts of Valentino and her family.
“Our investigators remain committed to working on this case and we’re extremely grateful to the support and commitment of Ms. Foy’s family. Their tireless efforts to help us secure forensic technology to solve Allison’s murder and others will never be forgotten,” Evangelous said.
District Attorney Ben David did not respond to a request for comment. Last year, he issued the following statement: “Ms. Valentino and I want the same thing: Justice for Allison Jackson Foy. We both share the hope that her sister’s killer will one day be held accountable for this heinous crime.”
For her part, Valentino said while the anniversary of her sister’s disappearance is a painful occasion, she hopes it will serve as an opportunity to get the message out.
“Basically, thirteen years later we’re still looking. I know there are people who know more than they’ve told. I’m begging them – my family’s begging them – to come forward,” Valentino said.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at email@example.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001